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Fair Isn't Always Equal: Constituency Population and the Quality of Representation in Canada

  • Paul E.J. Thomas (a1), Peter John Loewen (a1) and Michael K. MacKenzie (a2)

Abstract. Is there a conflict between the principles of representation by population and the representation of communities of interest? In Canada, the legal requirement to design electoral districts based on pre-existing regions and communities of interest has produced large discrepancies in district populations. Several authors claim that this situation has a deleterious effect on the representational experiences of those citizens living in more populous districts. This paper examines whether the population of an electoral district affects the quality of political representation in that district. We first present survey data characterizing the relationship between constituency population and citizens' reported satisfaction with democracy and contact with politicians and parties. We then present audit experimental evidence from Canada demonstrating that the helpfulness of politicians towards citizens is not conditioned on constituency population. Our data indicate that constituency population has no clear impact on the quality of representational experiences in Canada, suggesting that it is possible to ensure the effective representation of communities of interest without harming the overall quality of Canadian democracy.

Résumé. Y a-t-il un conflit entre les principes de représentation par personne et de représentation de communautés d'intérêts? Au Canada, des écarts importants entre la population de certaines circonscriptions électorales résultent de l'obligation légale de les délimiter en tenant compte des régions et des communautés d'intérêts préexistantes. Plusieurs auteurs soutiennent que cette situation entraîne des effets néfastes sur la représentation vécue par les citoyens qui habitent les circonscriptions les plus populeuses. Dans cet article, nous vérifions si la taille de la population influence la qualité de la représentation politique dans une circonscription électorale. Nous présentons d'abord des données d'enquête sur la relation entre la taille de la population d'une circonscription et (i) la satisfaction des citoyens à l'égard de la démocratie, (ii) leurs contacts avec les politiciens et (iii) les communications qu'ils reçoivent des politiciens et des partis. Puis, nous présentons des données d'une expérience menée au Canada qui indiquent que la propension des politiciens à aider les citoyens n'est pas influencée par la taille de la population de leur circonscription. Nos résultats indiquent que la taille de la population d'une circonscription n'a pas d'effet clair sur la qualité de la représentation au Canada, suggérant ainsi qu'il est possible d'assurer la représentation efficace des communautés d'intérêts sans nécessairement nuire à la qualité globale de la démocratie canadienne.

Corresponding author
Paul E.J. Thomas, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Sidney Smith Hall Room 3018, 100 St. George St., Toronto ON M5S 3G3,
Peter John Loewen, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Sidney Smith Hall Room 3018, 100 St. George St., Toronto ON M5S 3G3,
Michael K. MacKenzie, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, C425 – 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver BC V6T 1Z1,
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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
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